Story 2014-04-01 3H9 Can a Requirement for Credentials Be Overcome in Science Today?

Can a Requirement for Credentials Be Overcome in Science Today?

in ask on (#3H9)
story imageIn a wide-ranging interview on Wired , Freeman Dyson notes his pride in never having been awarded a PhD, despite having achieved world-reknown for bringing the mathematics of Richard Feynman's quantum theory to life. He suggests that the PhD system is: "...good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors. But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it's being a professor or other things, and it's quite inappropriate for that. It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they're not at all well-suited. In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they're qualified, but it really doesn't mean anything. The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy. So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all."

I am interested in |. answers to the following question: Why has the PhD credential become so important for careers in science and research both inside and outside academia? My best CS professor only had an undergraduate degree, for example, and I never found cause to disrespect his authority on the subjects he taught because the basis of his authority was clear in his instruction.
Reply 3 comments

Great interview (Score: 4, Interesting)

by on 2014-04-01 23:19 (#XS)

I can't speak for science, but one certainly doesn't need an advanced university degree, or even an undergraduate degree (Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, etc), to do fantastic work in software. People with a masters or Ph.D in CS from a well-regarded university tend to have a certain polish, though, with a practical understanding of the peer-reviewed research and fewer gaping holes in their base of fundamental knowledge. That would be important for professors, as even Dyson grudgingly acknowledges in the interview, I think.

It's almost a truism that many or most of the best teachers on a given college campus are those who don't have tenure. Youthful energy, ambition, receptiveness to new ideas, lack of complacency and habits of political infighting, rapport with students, are some of the reasons commonly given.

Re: Great interview (Score: 4, Informative)

by on 2014-04-02 03:27 (#XW)

You can defiantly excel at computer science without a formal degree. With a lot of self-taught "street smarts" from working in the practical word, you can do some neat stuff. But, some of the more academic upper level courses are amazingly insightful.

Although I opted for "just the B.S." credential, I took over a dozen upper level classes that had zero effect on my chosen degree. And wow those classes where neat. You are unlikely to develop a large Prolog application in the real world. Or build a fully functional MIPS CPU using only NAND gates. Or understand the differences between Third normal form and Boyce Codd normal form. Or apply the math behind transformation matrices and construct your own 3D rendering library. Or calculate the bandwidth of digital communication channels with the Nyquist theorem. Etc, etc...

My point being, those that skip the formal classes are skipping a significant amount of background knowledge behind the degree. You can still get this knowledge on your own self-study schedule, but the University has it all wrapped up in a neat little package for you.

Re: Great interview (Score: 4, Interesting)

by on 2014-04-02 04:55 (#XY)

You can still get this knowledge on your own self-study schedule, but the University has it all wrapped up in a neat little package for you.
I've known people without degrees (of any kind, some of them) who are very bright, knowledgeable, accomplished and well-read, but they have the drive and self-discipline to seek out information, study and learn independently. I suspect they are the exception, rather than the rule. Personally, I benefited from the structure a formal education provided and would likely not be as skilled or functional in my chosen area had I elected to forgo pursuing a degree.